Washington, Nov 15 : Archaeologists have discovered a temple in Turkey that dates back to 11,500 years, which they say might be the birthplace of civilization.
According to a report in the Smithsonian magazine, the discovery was made by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute, at Gobekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey.
Schmidt and his team found massive carved stones about 11,500 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery, and just before they learned to farm grains and domesticate animals. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years, and are twice as old as the pyramids.
Schmidt, who is in charge of excavations at the site, said that the ancient site might be the birthplace of agriculture, of organized religion, and of civilization itself.
"This is the first human-built holy place," he said. "Only man could have created something like this. It was clear right away this was a gigantic Stone Age site," he added.
According to Schmidt and his colleagues, no evidence of permanent settlement has been found at the site, although there are remains of butchered animals and edible plants.
However, all of the bones are from wild animals, and all the vegetation from wild plants. That means the massive structure was built by a hunter-gatherer society, not a settled agricultural one.
Yet, the three dozen T-shaped standing limestone monoliths arranged around the site are 10 feet high, weigh several tons each and bear detailed, stylized carvings of foxes, scorpions, lions, boars and birds.
The builders may not have been farmers, but they weren't primitive, suggest the archaeological team.
Massive amounts of manpower would have been needed to build the site, a logistical problem that may have spurred the builders to begin planting grain and herding wild sheep, according to Schmidt.
Wild grain ancestral to modern wheat grows nearby, and the site itself is just outside the city of Sanliurfa, known as Edessa to the Crusaders, and which locals say is the Biblical city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham.
The Euphrates flows eighty miles to the west, putting Gobelki Tepe right in the middle of the fertile crescent.
"This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," Stanford archaeologist Ian Hodder told Smithsonian magazine. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies," he added.